Wesley Joseph: “I’m making things for the test of time. I’m not looking at trends”

Wesley Joseph has carefully cultivated a universe of boundary-free creativity with his Really Very Good new project, ‘GLOW’.

Wesley Joseph has carefully cultivated a universe of boundary-free creativity with his Really Very Good new project, ‘GLOW’.

Words: Neive McCarthy.
Photos: Lewis Vorn.

Wesley Joseph is in talks about a plane. “I’m going a bit crazy sorting this next video. It’s been back-to-back Zoom calls from the moment I woke up – that’s been my life this week. If the video looks like how it is in my head, it’ll be worth it.” Here, on another Zoom call, Wesley takes a break from weighing up different skyward options to talk about his latest project, ‘GLOW’. The follow-up to ‘ULTRAMARINE’ and his first release with Secretly Canadian, it’s a body of work of such immense scope that a video involving him onboard a plane doesn’t even scratch the surface of the sheer scale of it.

‘ULTRAMARINE’ solidified Wesley as one of the most ambitious players in the game – ‘GLOW’ sees him put that ambition to work. “It feels like a progression in my artistry,” Wesley decides. “I’m more comfortable, but I’m still trying to tread new ground, but in the boots I made on ‘ULTRAMARINE’. It’s the same feet, but next steps and new ground.” 

A shifting mass of creativity, ‘GLOW’ is a full-throttle exploit that sees Wesley assume his usual multi-hyphenate roles. Songwriter, producer, performer, director – there is no end to his talent, but there is also no end to his output and, of course, no slowing down. “I think sometimes you only really know how far you’ve come when you look backward. I’m always looking forwards, my head is always working, and sometimes you don’t really realise the ground you’ve covered. It’s important to appreciate the journey. I actually struggle with doing that a lot, which is probably why in some songs, I make a point to do it because in my life, a lot of the time, I’m always on the go. I don’t have time to reflect in life. When I make music, it’s my time to reflect. It’s like writing a diary, almost.” 

As a result, much of his newest project is deeply introspective and a means of checking in with himself. This doesn’t always mean his current situation, however. Latest single ‘HIATUS’ sees him make conversation with his sixteen-year-old self, having found the part-written lyrics to the track, penned back in Walsall. “It’s quite an intense song,” Wesley laughs. It traces the roots of that restless determination Wesley still possesses now – part fraught rap, part slick falsettos, it’s a sage glance at how he reached this point. 

“One thing I always want in my music is for people to expect the unexpected”

Wesley Joseph

Recently debuting the track on his first-ever COLORS show performance, you might assume that it was the most representative track of the project as a whole. And while mindset-wise, it seems to pretty much epitomise Wesley’s ceaseless grind, on ‘GLOW’, he shows a capacity far beyond that. He opens the project with the title-track, and it feels something like a portal opening to this new world he has carved. Spectral and questioning, it allows Wesley’s potential to unfold at his own pace, stretching open amongst those expansive beats. 

“All bets are off. You can go anywhere from here,” Wesley assures. “It’s so broad and open, and it’s almost like a statement in its simplicity. It opens you up to go really intense and rap your arse off afterwards, but people still wouldn’t think it was a rap record. You don’t really know the genre of ‘GLOW’ as a song. It feels like a start or an end. I think that’s a perfect way to start a record because you just want to start it again from that point. It’s a unique entry point – if that was the first chapter of the book, you’d feel a lot, and you wouldn’t really know what it is. So you’d carry on.” 

From there, he maintains this ability to keep you on your toes throughout. The following track, ‘MONSOON’, lends its thoughtful, deep-diving bars to a lighter, late summer evening style track. ‘COLD SUMMER’ chooses unsettled strings and dark beats as Wesley adopts a supervillain point of view. No two tracks in the collection are the same, and Wesley seems to revamp his entire self with every play button pressed – it’s mystifying to watch unfold.

“One thing I always want in my music is for people to expect the unexpected,” clarifies Wesley. “But also, because it’s coming from the same human and the same soul, I want it to feel familiar to me and almost nowhere else. I’ve always wanted it to make sense that I could make a soul ballad, then a hard rap song or a dance tune or whatever, and it makes complete sense. All of those are part of me, and I have never wanted to be pigeonholed as a guy who makes boom rap or hip-hop or just things in that style. I want all of the parts of me to exist in my bodies of work and for it to feel concise but true to itself. Something you can expect the unexpected in, but it makes sense at the same time; it doesn’t feel wrong. That’s the main thing. If I was making a screamo song then going into hard classical, it would just be a mess. But I think all of the things that make me who I am are quite nuanced in the way that they exist together, but they are different.” 

Ambiguous and arguably undefinable, ‘GLOW’ relishes in a curveball, in launching into something entirely different. It could well be symptomatic of the seemingly bottomless well of creativity Wesley has to tap in. Deeply in tune with the world of film and with his mind constantly abuzz with ideas, it seems like Wesley is oft at a fork in the road. Not the kind where you’re forced to choose a path and stick to it, per se, but the kind of fork where the wealth of possibilities and potential veer off in any which direction, and at the end of each road may come another incomparable idea. 

“This whole thing would be way less fun for me if I couldn’t jump across different parallels. It would be way less exciting. When I finish the music, it’s really exciting. Then I get this huge adrenaline rush with the idea of making a video for the song. It helps move things along, but it’s more because it’s another way for me to be excited – all of this really is about me feeling excited and not feeling like you’re over things. The best songs I could’ve made in some people’s opinions, there were periods where I wasn’t excited about them – then I came up with a video idea for them, and I’m excited about it again.”

“’BLOOM’, I came up with a video for that which we didn’t end up doing,” he continues. “But the fact that I had this video idea for it was gassing me up so much about the song. To this day, the video is still in my head when I play the song, and I’m energised by that. The video is like the difference between a sketch in a book and then the final portrait in the gallery. You can see the potential of where it will end up, and that’s way more exciting for me than it ending as just sounds. Even though some songs I don’t think should have videos, the ones that do have videos, the idea of them having a visual gives the whole thing more energy. It helps me in ways that I probably don’t even realise.”

In blending the tracks with these immersive, inspired visuals, Wesley essentially creates a world for ‘GLOW’. It’s unlike anything anyone else in the industry is doing, it feels like – it takes a rare talent to employ such precision and acute detail into a journey like Wesley has done. From the DEAN featuring kick beats of ‘SUGAR DIVE’ to the haunting vocals on closing track ‘LIGHT LIGHT’, this is a collection of tracks steeped in care and born from someone who seems fated to create. “For this video, we’re shooting for ‘SUGAR DIVE’, I had to come up with three different video ideas for this back to back,” Wesley recalls. “When I did it, I was most happy with the one that I’d done last out of all three. I just remember I was very thankful that I could listen to the music and just see new things. That’s something I’m very appreciative of because I don’t know why it happens. I’m always looking at things and getting inspired, trying to be as wide-eyed as possible in life. At the same time, a lot of the time, I’ll hear music and literal things just pop in my head, and that’s something I feel not all people have.”

Somewhere at the intersection of predestined and stemming from an immense amount of graft, Wesley’s talent emerges. That unique combination undoubtedly makes his output increasingly more distinct – it is boundaries being broken, revolutionary tracks being made and a star shining brighter by the day. ‘GLOW’ has that sense of permanent brilliance that Wesley has been aiming for the entirety of his career.

“The last thing I’d ever want is to be ‘successful’, but I don’t even really rate what I’m doing,” he explains. “For me, all that really mattered was that I could be a reference point for people that make real art, for people that care. I’ve always cared and worked really hard in a detailed, meticulous way so that the art can just be the most true to me. When I first put out ‘ULTRAMARINE’, I remember saying to my manager, ‘If this doesn’t do well, I won’t care’. I know the value in what this is, and I know how true this is to what I wanted it to be. If people don’t get it – and I actually thought people wouldn’t, I thought people would think it’s a band, they won’t be sure if I rap, some people will think it’s all over the place – I was expecting all this stuff, but I just didn’t care. I was going to carry on going anyway, and one day it will make sense. 

“Luckily, I guess because of those decisions now, more and more people understand it for what it is. I’m always making things for the test of time. I’m not looking at trends; I’m not looking at what’s popping. I’m just making original music that can stand the test of time and be relevant and as poignant in twenty years as it is now. I’m inspired by what’s around me and what’s current in many ways, but I’m not looking left and right. I’m focused on making the best thing that I can make.”

As he prepares to shift his focus to the long-awaited debut album, Wesley is already one step ahead of ‘GLOW’. While the future hangs over everything he does and how things will play out, his focus is on the present moment, in the studio, sorting videos. He heads out on tour with Loyle Carner soon, after featuring on his third album ‘hugo’, but he hasn’t thought much of it yet – he’ll get too carried away and lose focus. His mind, regardless of how quickly it races, is firmly on what’s in front of him right now. Whatever that may be, he knows it will be special. ■

Taken from the March 2023 edition of Dork. Wesley Joseph’s project ‘GLOW’ is out 17th February.

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